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Opinions of Saturday, 2 July 2016

Columnist: Amoo-Asante & Asamoah

The Supreme Court’s direction to remove names from the voters’ register

The supreme court’s direction to remove names from the voters’ register – the complexities

The Supreme Court (SC) has an enviable task of guiding an un-cooperating Electoral Commission (EC) to undertake a complex task of removing names from the voters’ register. It is complex because it is not as simple as crossing out names from a manual class register in the 1960s.

It involves the use of mechanize files in comma-separated values (CSV) and portable document format (PDF) files. It deals with voters’ register of 2012 which has been updated in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

This article seeks to clarify the issues, the risk, and necessary procedures which must be undertaken in order to realize a successful outcome. Thus, this article will discuss:

a. Verification and validation of any list (NHIS registrants, death and minors)
b. The importance of a unique identifier which allows anyone to link two files or any two sets of documents.
c. The technology, expertise and the involvement of relevant persons to ensure transparent and fair outcomes.
d. The procedures that will ensures an orderly, accurate and complete exercise.

Verification and validation of any list (NHIS registrants, death and minors)
The EC is required to produce a list of NHIS registrant as well as the dead and minors.

The material nature of the NHIS registrants necessitates a much deeper clarification. The EC must produce a list which can be verified and validated independently as to its accuracy, validity and completeness.

This is the toughest responsibility of the EC because it must not just produce any fictitious list as a face saving exercise. We have been reminded that the NHIS registrants had their numbers entered on the voter register document when they registered.

If that is correct, then the SC must ask the EC to produce voters’ register for 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 in both the CSV and the PDF formats to all political parties as well as the SC itself. This will enable the parties to independently verify and validate the accuracy, validity and completeness of the list provided by the EC.

If an independent verification and validation is not achievable, then the list provided by the EC must be considered bogus and unreliable.
The difficulty of obtaining a comprehensive, complete and accurate list of deaths cannot be ignored.

Ghana’s birth and death registration is questionable at best. To rely on accurate data from such an outfit in order to delete names will lead to an unsatisfactory outcome since the list cannot be independently verified and validated as to accuracy and completeness.

The difficulty of determining whether a registrant is a minor from a picture is problematic. This therefore will produce a challenging situation which will lead to unsatisfactory outcome.

The importance of a unique identifier which allows anyone to link two files or any two sets of documents.

If one can use the CSV file to independently obtain the accurate and complete list of the NHIS registrant of the voters’ register, then a unique identifier is not necessary. If however, a list of names produced by the EC is not independently verified through its presence on the voters’ register already, then a unique identifier such as social security number as obtainable in the United States becomes very critical and important.

This is because having the name, date of birth and sex alone cannot guarantee matching a name from the NHIS list to a name on the voters register. This is simply because there can be one or more names with the same date of birth and sex in more than one polling station, constituency, region and national.

How does one delete two or more names with the same date of birth but registered in different places country wide? This is because citizens register to vote according to the place they plan to be on Election Day. Some voters may register in their home town, others the city where they live or the city where they plan to be on Election Day.

The absence of a unique identifier in Ghana makes it difficult if not impossible to accurately match two names in order to remove them from the voters’ register.

The technology, expertise and the involvement of relevant persons to ensure transparent and fair outcomes.

The voters’ register deals with names in excess of 14 million. Thus any exercise of removal of names requires appropriate technology and mechanize files (CSV, PDF, etc.). The CSV (flat) files are the working files which are basic and necessary for this exercise. Since the voters’ register has been updated from 2012, one will require that all necessary files from 2012 as mentioned above are electronically checked to see the presence of the names and the updates in different years.

There will be a need for accountants, information technology (IT) data personnel and legal representation from the EC as well as the political parties to work together to ensure a transparent and proper outcomes because of the volume of data and the sensitivity of the issue.

The procedures that will ensures an orderly, accurate, and complete exercise
The following steps will be necessary to ensure satisfactory removal of names:

1. A selection of a team of professionals from both the EC and the political parties. This must include qualified accountants with control expertise, IT data personnel and legal representation.

2. The provision of CSV and PDF files of 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016 voters’ registers to the parties at least two weeks in advance to enable them to review and determine the accuracy and completeness of the data in the files.

3. The acceptance of the technology or software to be used for the exercise.

4. A clear timeline and the miles stone put up by the EC not more than two weeks after the review mentioned above.

5. The spread sheet mapping of the changes of the files following the removal of the names from year to year and the expected outcome in statistical and analytical form per polling station constituency, region and national by sex and by age.

6. The removal of names. In this case you would have to consider removing duplicate, triplicates, and multiplicates which came to light during the reviewing of files as mentioned above. It is then that one has to match the NHIS list to the voters’ register in order to remove the relevant names.

7. The provision of a final voters register agreed by the political parties and supported by statistical data such as the number of registered voters per polling station, constituency, region and national by sex and by age.
8. Furnishing the voters’ register to political parties in both CSV and PDF formats.

9. Presenting the final outcome to the SC for their satisfaction and approval.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that this is a complex and laborious process necessary to obtain a satisfactory outcome and valid voters’ register which is accurate and complete. It is doubtful if the EC can undertake this exercise expeditiously as discussed above. It may be concluded after reviewing the above that the best option is to order a completely new voters’ register. Time is of essence and the EC must not be allowed to run the clock.